UNC commit Meeks trying to live up to talent
FEB 01, 2013 7:07a ET
As the team begins to uniformly complete layup lines, slamming home effortless dunk after effortless dunk, the star becomes too easy to spot. He’s the one who hasn’t dunked one time. He’s the guy who is way too big to be making crossover 15-foot pull-up jump shots look that easy. The one with the smoothness to his movements that shows he knows he belongs on a basketball floor and almost looks bored with what the game has to offer.
At a self-proclaimed “6-foot-10” with a seemingly permanent smile on his face, North Carolina commit Kennedy Meeks, who thinks he will grow to seven-feet tall, is that guy for West Charlotte and has been since he started dominating the city's high school basketball scene as a sophomore. As he stands in line slapping hands with every teammate who comes by, looking across at a team without a player taller than 6-foot-5, there’s a wonder of what’s in this for Meeks? Who could possibly challenge him in this realm?
This should have been a feast for Meeks. Light work, some would call it. A quick 20-10 scoring and rebounding effort before exiting stage midway through the third quarter with his team again on cruise control.
His team did cruise, winning by 20-plus points, but it was a quiet night for Meeks, scoring only two points to go with 10 rebounds.
Therein lies the conundrum with Meeks. He possesses gifts beyond measure and a high basketball IQ to match — but talent only takes you so far in college.
“He has tremendous hands and great touch for a guy his size,” said Evan Daniels, Scout.com’s national recruiting analyst. “I think he has a lot of ability. The next step is for him to get in shape, just to be blunt about it. He’s going to have to make that step to reach his full potential. He has a lot of talent, great touch and a couple scoring moves, but he has to get in better shape."
Credit Meeks, though, he doesn’t lack self-awareness. He knows a player of his ability should be able to get up more than three shots in a high school game. Ask most players where they need to get better, and the answer is always “everything.” Not Meeks. He's aware of his shortcomings.
He doesn’t mince words.
“Just my conditioning,” Meeks said.
Added his high school coach Baronton Terry: “He’s got to learn to get up and down the court, and that’s about it. He’s very skilled, strong hands, good feet, so he’ll be fine [in college].”
Meeks says he feels in better shape this season than last and his coach says he’s “way ahead of last season," but he still looked winded in a first half that was closer than many expected against an overwhelmed North Mecklenburg team.
There’s little question Meeks' offensive skill set is one that translates immediately on the college level. His back-to-the-basket post moves and passing ability when the double comes are exactly what North Carolina’s missed in Roy Williams’ inside-out working offense this season. The opportunity is there for Meeks to step in immediately and start as a true freshman on a team desperate for a true post presence. This is the first year since Williams returned to North Carolina that he has not had two big men average 25-plus minutes, desperately searching for a consistent answer at the five spot to pair with sophomore James Michael McAdoo.
“I just feel like I can bring the anchor in the paint, bring the offense, bring the help defense when it comes to rebounding,” Meeks said.
But perhaps no coach in the country requires you to be in shape more than Williams. One thing’s always been the case with the two-time NCAA championship-winning coach: Don’t get back on defense and you'll will have a spot right next to his blazer.
Meeks does have the built-in advantage of being a tremendous outlet passer in starting the break, which negates some of the need to run offensively, and will be deadly with his mid-range, face-up jumper trailing on the secondary break.
“I feel like I can start the break [for North Carolina],” Meeks said. “When I get the rebound, turn around and look for a guard to get up the floor.”
Can he consistently get back on defense, though? And can he defend the high pick-and-roll well enough for Williams to be able to utilize his unique skill set on the offensive end?
“That’s going to be tough. Changing ends is going to be tough,” Daniels said. “If he slimmed down, he’d be a much better rebounder outside of his area as well. In the college game he’s going to get tired running up and down the floor."
Throughout his game against the smaller but quicker North Mecklenburg team, they fronted him and two defenders behind him, routinely sagging off on the perimeters and forcing Meeks to continually hit the open man on the perimeter.
“It’s really frustrating,” Meeks admitted. “But I just have to fight through it.”
Every high school star, though, is the opposing defense’s Nos. 1, 2 and 3 priorities. Besides his conditioning, that’s always been the other critique of Meeks: He’s just way too good to be that deferential at times. He’s clearly a leader on this West Charlotte team, and his desire to punish defenses with his passing is admirable, but he can clearly be more aggressive offensively and on the glass.
“He had flashes when he was a sophomore and junior where he was getting in shape and active and that’s when I liked him the most,” Daniels said, who dropped him 20 spots in his rankings since last spring.
The skill set, when he’s in shape and in alpha dog mode, Daniels says can be tantalizing, no doubt. Even he, one who is a self-proclaimed comparison hater, says the one offered up so frequently for Meeks — former North Carolina star Sean May — has some play to it and is a pretty good indicator of the offensive package he’ll bring to the table in college if he can improve his conditioning.
So which way will he trend? Will he be a guy like his future teammate Joel James who took conditioning serious and got in shape in a hurry? Or will he be a guy like former UCLA player Josh Smith, who possessed top 10 in his class ability but was never able to get his conditioning in check?
We’ll know soon enough.
“I don’t see how they don’t get in shape in college,” Daniels said. “I could see it in high school, but I don’t know how you don’t get in shape once you’re in school. When you’re in college those guys are just spending so much time with you and you’re playing so much basketball that’s it almost hard not to get into shape.”
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